There is no doubt that the world came to a standstill after countries declared lockdown regulations in March 2020, following the global COVID-19 pandemic.
As physical and social distancing measures were put in place, technology still connected many people, bringing families together despite being apart. And while the world stood still for a moment, there were some key moments from the Middle East that brought communities together. From ‘#InThisTogetherDubai’ to the Hope Mars Mission, social media was a key platform that continued to connect individuals. Outside of these events, technology also proved to be a beneficial tool for keeping fit and staying healthy during lockdown. Read on for a data-driven look at some lockdown highlights that emerged from the Middle East.
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Key Hashtags from 2020
With 10 300 social media mentions of “#InThisTogetherDubai” in the Middle East, between 1 March 2020 and 28 February 2021, the hashtag was widely used to bring people together digitally in the education community as COVID-19 had caused schools and universities to close as a means of practicing social and physical distancing.
The hashtag proved to be popular on Twitter, as the data indicates that ‘#InThisTogetherDubai’ had a social reach of just over 11 Million in March 2020, and consistently garnered a social reach of over 80 000 in the months that followed.
Since the creation of the hashtag, a number of educational institutions and schools have engaged with this hashtag to share ways in which they have managed to adapt to physical and social distancing. Examples of schools using the hashtag, even in 2021, include the Dove Green Private School and Ignite School.
Trending themes such as 'online tutoring' and 'community' emerged, and the '#InThisTogetherDubai' hashtag was positively received within the region despite the physical challenges that both teachers and students were experiencing at the time. The data indicates that 65% of all social media mentions in the Middle East on ‘#InThisTogetherDubai’ were positive while 32% were neutral. The 3% negative sentiment is due to social media posts from early March 2020 that also mentioned ‘COVID-19’ or ‘coronavirus’, terms that have a mostly negative sentiment.
In January 2020, it was announced that Global Citizen had added Dubai as the seventh venue for its ‘Global Goal Live: The Possible Dream' event. This would have been a 10-hour live broadcast, spanning six continents and a call to action for donations from governments, companies, and philanthropists to reach the AED 1.28 trillion annual goal needed to end extreme poverty by 2030.
Due to the global pandemic, which led to the event not taking place, the artists and musicians scheduled to perform found a way to make the show go on through the ‘#TogetherAtHome’ virtual concert series that was spearheaded by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Global Citizen.
The data recorded nearly 4 000 ‘#TogetherAtHome’ social media mentions in the Middle East between 1 March 2020 and 31 July 2020, when the virtual concerts were taking place. April 2020 saw the hashtag garner a social reach of 129 Million in the region as this month included performances from John Legend and Meghan Trainor.
Some of the trending themes that emerged from ‘#TogetherAtHome’ in the same time period include:
- ‘healthcare workers’ refers to the virtual concert series being in celebration of frontline and healthcare workers during the pandemic.
- ‘home’ which refers to where most online users were watching the virtual concerts from, as well as where the artists and musicians were performing from.
- ‘world’ and ‘support’ which refers to online users in the Middle East showing support, along with the rest of the world, for the virtual concert series.
Even though Dubai had been added as the seventh venue for Global Citizen’s ‘Global Goal Live: The Possible Dream' event, perhaps it comes as no surprise that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) led online mentions on ‘#TogetherAtHome’ in the Middle East (90%). However, Forbes reported that the UAE, with an average of 10.5 accounts, has “the highest number of social media accounts per person globally” which could be another reason why the UAE contributed to so many ‘#TogetherAtHome’ social media mentions. Kuwait was the second country to mention ‘#TogetherAtHome’ the most in the region while Oman was the third.
Hope Mars Mission
Launched in July 2020, as reported by Arab News, the UAE’s first ever interplanetary mission has now successfully reached its orbit around Mars. The spacecraft, which has been nicknamed “Hope” marks the UAE as the fifth country in the world to reach the Red Planet.
The excitement surrounding this historic event has sparked much news media and social media buzz, both in the UAE and around the world. The data recorded just over 20 000 global news media mentions on the ‘Hope Mars Mission’, and over 60 000 global social media mentions between 1 July 2020 and 28 March 2021.
As indicated in the below image, there were two distinct moments where social media mentions on the ‘Hope Mars Mission’ peaked. The first was during July 2020, when the space exploration mission was launched by the United Arab Emirates Space Agency. During this month, there were more than 30 000 global social media mentions, garnering a social reach of 2.21 Billion worldwide. This was, naturally, due to the excitement around the official launch of the mission, and the worldwide attention it gained.
Global social media mentions peaked again during February 2021, where the data recorded more than 37 000 social media mentions, which had a social reach of 2.81 Billion worldwide. This was due to news of the Hope Probe successfully entering into the orbit of Mars. Again, this received worldwide recognition, which contributed to the large amount of mentions in February 2021.
While global news outlets have reported on the success of Hope Probe, including BBC, Sky News and The Guardian, there are still some mixed feelings from social media users regarding the exploratory mission. With the Hope Probe having successfully entered Mars’ atmosphere, this has contributed to most of the 21.7% positive sentiment towards the mission from global online users. It may be too early to tell, but while the “riskiest part” of the mission is over, the probe still has much work to do while on the Red Planet, which could be a contributing factor to why 76.2% of online users have expressed mixed or neutral feelings towards the Mars Mission.
Despite most social media users having neutral feelings towards the Hope Mars Mission, the emotions that have been expressed from global audiences include “love” and “joy” in the success of the Mars Mission thus far. The data recorded also “sadness” and “fear” as emotions that were expressed; this was due to some engagement with this tweet from Twitter user @PowerDNS_Bert.
Naturally, most of the global mentions on the UAE Hope Mars Mission comes from online users in the United Arab Emirates. Saudi Arabian users have also contributed to conversations surrounding the Mission, while users in the United States have also expressed interest in the mission, sharing their own congratulatory messages to the UAE as well as sharing updates on the mission.
While the mission is still far from over, some of the trending themes to have emerged from online mentions so far include:
- ‘first interplanetary mission’ which refers to the ‘Hope Mars Mission’ being the UAE’s first ever interplanetary mission.
- ‘Martian atmosphere’ and ‘first image’ which refers to some of the images and data that the Hope Probe has been gathering while on the ‘red planet’.
- ‘probe’ which refers to the name of the spacecraft, Hope Probe.
Health: Fitness & Exercise
With lockdown restrictions firmly in place across the globe for much of 2020, having fun may have been a little more difficult to achieve. However, one such industry that seemed to boom during this time was health and fitness. A number of articles, like the one in the Hindustan Times, shared exercises that people could do while in quarantine to keep fit and stay focused.
As reported in the World Economic Forum, fitness app downloads grew by 46% worldwide, and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region saw the second highest growth in fitness app downloads (55% increase), as reported by Visual Capitalist.
Between 1 March 2020 and 28 February 2021, the data recorded just over 1 000 news articles discussing ‘fitness’ and ‘exercise’ in the UAE. These news articles included mentions on the best fitness trackers to use, gyms to try out in Dubai, and hiking trails to try out in the UAE.
On social media, the data recorded 1 350 online mentions on ‘fitness’ and ‘exercise’ in the Middle East during the same time period, which is an increase of more than 300% as compared to the previous period. In essence, the data indicates that there are more social media users in the Middle East were talking about ‘fitness’ and ‘exercise’ in 2020, and being in quarantine may be a contributing factor towards this.
Looking at the below image, social media mentions on ‘fitness’ and ‘exercise’ were high during the months of April 2020 and September 2020. In April 2020, this was the beginning of the rise of people exercising more often at home and keeping fit, as @Silhouettecharm tweeted. Articles, like the one from Corporate Sports, were also being shared on how to stay healthy during Ramadan.
In September 2020, social media mentions on ‘fitness’ and ‘exercise’ picked up again as fitness platforms, like Train60, where coming to the forefront of encouraging good health during lockdown.
Interestingly, in June 2020, despite the number of social media mentions being low, the mentions that the data recorded this month saw a social reach of 2.41 Million. It was during this month that more prominent accounts and organisations were speaking about maintaining good health during the global pandemic. These accounts and organisations include @RakHospital, Contours Express Qatar, and @UmmAlEmaratPark, and may have contributed to the high social reach number due to the high reach that these accounts have.
Although 67.5% of social media users in the Middle East have mixed feelings about staying fit and exercising, 22% of social media users have enjoyed the change in their lifestyles and the positive impact that exercise has had on their physical and mental wellbeing. Hiking has been a prominent way that users in the Middle East are keeping fit, as influential figure @Ashleigh_Stewart shared in a tweet. Another user, @DaraziFarah shared how “Exercise is medicine” as children were being encouraged to stay healthy during lockdown.
While lockdown and quarantine is still the reality for many people around the world, the Middle East has had some notable highlights throughout 2020 and 2021 that has sparked hope and excitement. As the Mars Mission continues, and staying healthy becomes more important in our lifestyles, let’s see what new hashtags will emerge from the rest of 2021 that will continue to keep us together.
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